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This Week: Remembering Ellison Onizuka June 22, 2016

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onizukaShuttle astronaut Ellison Onizuka was born on June 24, 1946, in Hawaii. He would be 70 years old on Friday.

Onizuka was selected for the astronaut corps in 1978 as part of the first class to include women. He was the first Asian American to travel to space, and the first American woman, the first African American, the first Jewish person, and the first mother in space all were part of Group 8.

Onizuka’s first mission was STS-51C aboard Discovery in 1985. The commander was Ken Mattingly, who’d flown on Apollo 16. The shuttle launched on a cold morning, and an o-ring in a booster rocket joint suffered more damage than had been seen before; in fact, the second rubber ring was damaged, the first time this had been observed. Roger Boisjoly, a Morton Thiokol engineer, expressed concern over that launch and one in July, which had likely been seconds from catastrophic failure because of the known o-ring problem.

Onizuka’s last mission was STS-51L aboard Challenger on January 28, 1986. The extremely cold temperature that morning increased the likelihood that the o-rings would not seal every booster joint, and, indeed, 73 seconds into ascent, disaster occurred. Onizuka and his six crew mates died.

As we look at our U.S. passports now and turn to page 28, we see Onizuka’s words:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds… to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

5 Books We’re Reading This Summer June 15, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Space Exploration, Writing.
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What’s It Like In Space by Ariel Waldman

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs From Outer Space by Janna Levin

Crash Course: Essays from Where Writing and Life Collide by Robin Black

Hood (an Object Lessons book) by Alison Kinney

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


On This Date: 5 Things May 25, 2016

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May 25, 1931: Georgy Grechko was born in Leningrad. He grew up to become a cosmonaut who flew on several Soviet missions to space and spent almost a month aboard the Salyut 4 space station in 1975, almost three months aboard Salyut 6 in 1977, and eight days on Salyut 7.

May 25, 1961: President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that the United States should send human beings to the Moon by the end of the decade.

May 25, 1977: The film Star Wars: A New Hope was released. We were youngsters then who came of age knowing of a galaxy far, far away where one might use The Force for good or evil. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time and held that record until E.T.

May 25, 2008: The Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars, NASA’s first successful landing on the Red Planet in a polar region. It confirmed the existence of water ice and researched the possible history of water there. Notably, the mission cost $386 million, including the launch itself; this relatively reasonable cost for a space mission (the last shuttle missions cost more each) was achieved by incorporating unused hardware from earlier programs.

May 25, 2012: SpaceX’s Dragon (supposedly named after the song from our childhood, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”) docked with the International Space Station, the first time a commercial spacecraft had done such a thing. SpaceX is developing Dragon so that it can fly crew as well as supplies to ISS.

BONUS: On May 26, 1951, astronaut and physicist Sally Ride was born. Ride became part of the first astronaut class to include women and became the first American woman to travel to space, when she flew aboard Challenger in 1983. She later served on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger accident and, even later, revealed that she’d passed along the crucial information about the booster o-rings. Ride died in 2012, the too-common result of pancreatic cancer. This Thursday, celebrate the life of Sally Ride!

DOUBLE-BONUS: On May 28, 1912the first female radio astronomer was born in Australia. Ruby Payne-Smith, while working at a cancer research center, determined that the Earth’s magnetism doesn’t have much affect on bodily functioning of humans. She discovered Type I and Type II radio bursts, helped with the first radio interferometer observation to determine a solar burst in 1946, and she did top secret work on radar during World War II. She died on this date–May 25, 1981.

#ETComesHome to California May 22, 2016

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On May 21, External Tank #94 arrived at the California Science Center, where it will eventually be stacked with the orbiter Endeavour and two test rockets and displayed upright as if ready to launch. Lofty Ambitions was there to see it arrive because we couldn’t imagine more fun for nerds on a Saturday night.


This particular external fuel tank for the space shuttle is the only functional ET in existence. It was a lightweight version built for use with Columbia, but, in 2003, Columbia broke apart on reentry before this tank was used. By the time NASA was flying shuttles again, a super-lightweight tank was in production. In fact, ET-94 was used to study whether the lightweight construction contributed to the Columbia accident, and, as you can see in our photos, pieces of foam have been removed as part of that investigation.


ET-94 arrives at the last corner of its journey.

No other external tanks survive because they were used to launch space shuttles. The ET is the large orange tube to which the orbiter and solid booster rockets were attached. It therefore provided structural stability in addition to holding the the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen that fed the Space Shuttle Main Engines for roughly the first 70 miles of its journey. With the fuel exhausted, the empty tank separated from the orbiter and plummeted back toward Earth, disintegrating on its way down.


Got it!

ET-94 left Louisiana on a barge on April 12. Later last month, it made its way through the Panama Canal and on to Los Angeles. On its way up the coast, the tugboat pulling the ET rescued four people from a life raft after their fishing boat had sunk. Finally, yesterday, aboard a deftly maneuvered transporter, ET-94 made its way through the streets of Inglewood and to the California Science Center at Exposition Park, where we met it up close.


Tight turn!

For the time being, ET-94 will be enclosed next to the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, where a window will be added so that visitors to Endeavour will be able to peek out at the fuel tank.




ET-94 Volunteers


ET-94 Nose with foam  piece removed



With Aerospace Curator Ken Phillips and ET-94

On This Date: Apollo 10 May 18, 2016

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Apollo 10 launched on May 18, 1969, from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center. That was the only Saturn V rocket to launch from LC-39B.


Anna & Gene Cernan!

The crew–Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan–had all flown to space before and would all travel to space again in subsequent missions. Stafford flew on the Apollo-Soyuz project in 1975, Young commanded Apollo 16 and the first space shuttle mission, and Cernan goes down in history as the last person to have his boots on the Moon as part of Apollo 17.

Apollo 10 was the first spacecraft to broadcast live video in color.

The Command Module and Lunar Module were named for for Peanuts characters, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, respectively. Snoopy, with Stafford and Young aboard, tested the Lunar Module by descending to toward the Moon’s surface without getting close enough to land. Cernan himself later wrote that the lander was too heavy to land and guarantee ascent back to the Command Module, and the lore is that NASA left it short of fuel so that the astronauts wouldn’t be tempted to land. Snoopy was left adrift after Stafford and Young were back in the Command Module, and the Lunar Module eventually crashed into the Moon.

While it has never been secret, recently, Apollo 10 hit the news when a documentary supposedly revealed what the astronauts called “whistling” and “outer-space-type music.” It sounds to us like a high-pitched vacuum cleaner running in the background or the sort of radio interference one might encounter on Earth if one is listening to AM radio. Read more and watch the video at Space.com HERE. What we appreciate more about this audio and that of Apollo 16 is that John Young calls his crewmates “babe.”

On This Date: 5 Anniversaries for April 20 April 20, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
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Looking for something to ponder or celebration today, April 20? Here you go!

1862: Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard prove that spontaneous generation doesn’t happen. If you’re still hoping that something can come from nothing, you’re more than 150 years behind the times.

MarieCurieAmHist1902: Pierre and Marie Curie radium chloride, the first compound of radium to be isolated in a pure state. In 2013, the FDA approved radium chloride as a treatment for prostate cancer. We’ve written about the Curies before; check out more info about Pasteur and Curie HERE.

CubsBoard1916: One hundred years ago on this date, the Chicago Cubs played their first game in what has become Wrigley Field on this date. While this anniversary is beside the usual topics of Lofty Ambitions, we’re lifelong Cubs fans, and we like an excuse for a celebration.

1937: George Takei was born in Los Angeles. He later played Sulu in the television show Star Trek and subsequent films. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter and not following George Takei, you’re missing out.

Lofty&CharlieDuke1972: John Young and Charlie Duke land on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission. See our interviews with the wonderful Charlie Duke HERE and HERE.

Bonus: In April 2012, we had followed the orbiter Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the National Air and Space Museum‘s Udvar-Hazy facility. April 20th was that oribter’s first full day as a museum artifact.


One Big Thing: Generation Space! March 28, 2016

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We’re thrilled to announce that Stillhouse Press will publish Generation Space: A Love Story in February 2017.

We’ll have postcards and bookmarks available at the AWP Bookfair this week, both at the Stillhouse Press booth (#708) and the Chapman University & Tabula Poetica booth (#701).

Though we didn’t realize it at the time, this book began in the fall of 2010, when we started actively following the end of the space shuttle program and writing Lofty Ambitions blog. Really, though, Generation Space began when we were toddlers in Illinois watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing on television. In 1986, we were each in college when Challenger broke apart, a definitive moment for young adults and children across the nation. In 2008, we moved to Southern California to reorient their lives together and, as a serendipitous result, set out on the adventure that Lofty Ambitions blog has chronicled.

Generation Space is our love story, in part, and also a love story about the Space Age and the long generation that grew up in the shadow of Shuttle. Our book grapples with and celebrates who we are, how far we’ve gone, and what the future might hold.

For a short essay about Anna’s love story with Shuttle, check out “The Composed Soul” in Barrelhouse’s Weird Love feature.

Note: The mosaic’d image of us was made with Loft Ambitions and NASA photos run through AndreaMosaic software; in this way, we are composed of the Space Age we represent. The background photo of the STS-135 launch is from NASA, furthering the intersection. The postcard design was completed by the Ideation Lab at Chapman University.

Endeavour Mission 26: ET Comes Home! March 3, 2016

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Endeavour did not merely move in a straight line down streets. The orbiter had to zig and zag to avoid poles and trees.

Endeavour did not merely move in a straight line down streets. The orbiter had to zig and zag to avoid poles and trees.


California Science Center Foundation Announces
Route for External Tank’s Journey 

Los Angeles – Today the California Science Center Foundation announced the route for “Mission 26: ET Comes Home,” the journey of the external tank (ET-94). It will travel from the Michoud Assembly Facility through the Panama Canal by barge to Los Angeles, then on through city streets, pulled by a truck on dollies, to its final destination near the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Pavilion. The entire journey will take six to eight weeks. ET-94 is expected to arrive around May 21, 2016.

Larger and longer than Endeavour, the ET was the Orbiter’s massive “gas tank” and contained the propellants used by the Space Shuttle Main Engines (though ET-94 is empty). The tank, the only major, non-reusable part of the space shuttle, is neither as wide as Endeavour (32 feet versus 78 feet) nor as high (35 feet versus 56 feet). Because of this, fewer utilities will be impacted and no trees will be removed along ET’s route from the coast to Exposition Park, though some light trimming may be necessary. The path it will take through the streets was planned with input from city officials, utilities and community groups.

The route is as follows –
Marina Del Rey parking lot to Fiji Way
Fiji Way to Lincoln (PCH)
Lincoln to Mindanao Way
Mindanao Way to CA-90
CA-90 to Culver Blvd
Culver Blvd. to Lincoln via transition ramp
Lincoln to Loyola Blvd
?Loyola Blvd. to Westchester Pkwy
Westchester Parkway turns into Arbor Vitae St. at Airport Blvd; Arbor Vitae St. to La Brea Ave
La Brea Ave. to Manchester Blvd
Manchester Blvd. to Vermont Ave
Vermont Ave. to Martin Luther King Blvd.?
Martin Luther King Blvd. to Exposition Park.

The journey through the streets to the Science Center is expected to take 13-18 hours.

“With the transfer of ET-94 from NASA, we will have the ability to preserve and display an entire stack of flight hardware, making the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center an even more compelling educational experience. With the same outpouring of community support we saw with the arrival of Endeavour, we look forward to celebrating this gift from NASA as it journeys from the coast through city streets to the California Science Center,” notes California Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.

“We are honored that NASA has entrusted the California Science Center and the City of Los Angeles with this incredible piece of history,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “As the world’s last surviving flight-qualified space shuttle external tank journeys from the coast to its final home, it will inspire a new generation of Angelenos — who can dream the kind of dreams that make it possible for us to continue leading the world in innovation.”

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts notes that “Inglewood is pleased to share another historic moment with the California Science Center in the transport of ET-94.  Nearly 1.5 million people came out to cheer Endeavour years ago bringing joy to everyone, young and old.  The event celebrated our sense of wonderment and community pride. Inglewood once again welcomes the ET to its home at the Science Center”

Mrs. Lynda Oschin, Chairperson and Secretary of the Mr. and Mrs. Oschin Family Foundation, adds “I’m so excited about this new addition to the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center and look forward to joining the enthusiastic crowds as it makes it’s way to the California Science Center.”

The donation of this never-used artifact from NASA is significant, and allows the Science Center to fulfill its vision of building a full stack for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final display in the launch position in the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. This will mark the only time an ET has traveled through urban streets and will evoke memories of when Endeavour traveled 12-miles from the Los Angeles International Airport to the Science Center and was cheered on by a crowd of 1.5 million in 2012.

Ways the Public Can Support Mission 26: ET Comes Home
To follow ET-94’s journey from the Michoud Assembly Facility to the California Science Center, use the hashtag #ETComesHome.
Volunteer opportunities to help move ET-94 to the California Science Center will be available. Contact the California Science Center volunteer office at (213) 744-2124 or at VolunteerDept@cscmail.org for more information.

The California Science Center Foundation welcomes the public’s support of the EndeavourLA Campaign to create the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. Opportunities include sponsoring one of Endeavour’s thermal tiles with a gift of $1,000 and monthly payment options are available. For more information or to make a donation online, please visit EndeavourLA.org. ET-94 will also be the star attraction at the Science Center’s 18th Annual Discovery Ball on Friday, May 20, 2016 in Marina del Rey. Tables for our first-ever, off-site gala start at $10,000 (Ten people) or $2,500 for a pair of tickets. Contact galainfo@cscmail.org for reservations.

About the California Science Center
California Science Center is located at 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles.  Open daily from 10am to 5 pm, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Admission to the exhibits is free. Timed tickets are required for the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibition and may be obtained online for $2. IMAX Theater tickets range from $5.00 to $8.25.  Both the Science Center and IMAX Theater are wheelchair accessible.  Visitors can enter the parking lot at 39th/Exposition Park Drive and Figueroa Street.  Parking is $12/car.  For general information, phone (323) SCIENCE or visitwww.californiasciencecenter.org.

Five Aviation and Space Anniversaries February 17, 2016

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Last week, Doug spent a day at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) attending a #NASASocial event dubbed #StateOfNASA. Read last week’s post HERE.

#1. NACA’s 100th (last year)

NASA’s predecessor organization was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA was founded on March 3rd, 1915, a little more than eleven years after the Wright brothers first took to the skies.


#2. NASA Langley’s 100th (next year)

Langley Research Center (LaRC) was established in 1917 by NACA. The facility is named for the Wright brothers’ competitor, aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. LaRC is famous for the contributions to aerospace engineering made by its more than forty wind tunnels.


The Mercury capsule is one of the most famous vehicles tested in the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel. Here, a technician checks the Mercury full-scale capsule model prior to testing in the Full-Scale Tunnel in 1959. Much of the research and development of the Mercury program was actually conducted at NASA.

#3. NASA Glenn’s 75th (this year)

Founded as the Aircraft Engine Research Center in Cleveland in 1941, NASA’s Glenn Research Center will celebrate its Diamond Anniversary in 2016. Until 1999, the facility was known as Lewis Research Center when it was renamed for NASA astronaut and US senator John Glenn. Its full name is NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, which simply flows off the lips.

In this image, engineers test the RL-10 engine in NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center's Propulsion Systems Laboratory. Developed by Pratt & Whitney, the engine was designed to power the Centaur second-stage rocket. Centaur was responsible for sending the Surveyor spacecraft on its mission to land on the Moon and to explore the surface in the early stages of the Apollo program.

In this image, engineers test the RL-10 engine in NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory. Developed by Pratt & Whitney, the engine was designed to power the Centaur second-stage rocket. Centaur was responsible for sending the Surveyor spacecraft on its mission to land on the Moon and to explore the surface in the early stages of the Apollo program.

#4. 5th Anniversary of President Obama’s National Space Plan (this year)

It’s been a little more than five years since America shifted its next destination in space from a plan for returning to the Moon to a Mars voyage. In a speech at Kennedy Space Center delivered on April 15, 2010, President Obama articulated a program that would have NASA astronauts visit an asteroid in 2025 and see humans venture to Mars in the mid-2030s.


#5. 35th Anniversary of STS-1 (this year)

Unfortunately, Administrator Bolden only mentioned four specific anniversaries in his presentation. Recently, our own campus celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident by adding the papers of Morton-Thiokol engineer Allan McDonald to the collections of the Leatherby Libraries where Doug works.

Just a few weeks from now is the 35th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, STS-1. On April 12, 1981, astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen were onboard as the first Shuttle mission headed into low-Earth orbit. This date also coincides, of course, with anniversary of the first human mission into space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok-1 roared into space 55 years ago in 1961.


5 Space Shuttles September 9, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
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This week officially launches our series of 5. Last week, we outlined our plan.




Columbia was the Space Shuttle program’s first functional orbiter. It launched on April 12, 1981, and flew for 22 years and 27 missions. This first shuttle was thousands of pounds heavier than the others. It flew a lot of science-oriented missions, and its last completed mission was to service the Hubble Space Telescope. On February 1, 2003, Columbia broke apart on re-entry. You can read one of our posts that commemorates that accident, along with the Apollo 1 and Challenger accidents, HERE.


Challenger‘s maiden flight was in April of 1983, and it’s last, fatal launch occurred on January 28, 1986. You can read more of what we’ve written about Challenger at Lofty Ambitions HERE.



First launched in 1984, Discovery is the first fully functional space shuttle we saw in person and up close. This orbiter can now be seen at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. In this photo, Anna helps with mating process in preparation for Discovery to fly from Florida to DC after its final orbital mission.



First launched in 1985, Atlantis concluded the Space Shuttle program with its final flight in 2011. We were there to see this shuttle on the launchpad and see the program’s final launch. This shuttle can now be viewed in person at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where we saw it installed in 2012.



We think of Endeavour as our shuttle, for it was the first orbiter we saw launch in person, and we followed its journey to our backyard at the California Science Center in 2012. Endeavour was the only replacement shuttle and the last shuttle to be built; it was commissioned after the Challenger accident and made from spare parts. It flew 25 missions between 1992 and 2011.


Bonus: Enterprise

Enterprise was never designed to go to space, but we give it a lot of credit as a test vehicle. And who doesn’t like a space vehicle that gets (re)named by Star Trek fans? Anna saw this (non)orbiter when Udvar-Hazy first opened, and it’s now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Complex in New York.



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